Have you noticed that when the world suffocates you, when you barely have enough energy to keep breathing, when all is lost – those are the moments when Christ’s presence becomes tangible to us? When we are pushed against the wall and all is indeed lost – only those are the moments when we truly open up to Christ. It is as if we need to reach the point when we are dead to the world (dead to our selves, to our identity in the world) in order to find the spiritual resources to finally open up; as if we need that pain, that desperation to cut our hearts open and allow Christ to enter.
The world will always reject that which it does not recognise as its own. Christ has warned us about it, and He has shown us – through the example of His life – that one becomes fully human only on the Cross. It is painful to understand that the world rejecting Christ is the daily reality of our own ‘selves-in-the-world’ rejecting our ‘selves-in-Christ’. The world is hidden in us, and so is Christ – when Christ tells us we are not of this world, His word cuts deep into our being. We become ourselves only when we break free from our worldly selves on the Cross. We find our true voice, we find the voice of our true prayer, only when we lose our worldly voice on the Cross. What a painful paradox, that we only find Life when we lose our worldly life on the Cross.
Come follow me, Christ says. This is His call to perfection to all of us, but none of us – myself less than anyone – answers His call. We all hear His words but none of us allows them to enter our heart and grow roots there. Deep down, I think we all fear that, should we allow that call to grow roots in our hearts, the fruit of that seed may threaten our life as we know it. Christ’s words are dangerous because they have the power to erase the attraction of our earthly life, they have the power to take over our intellect, the power to overcome the limitations of our culture, society, heritage and all the rules and regulations with which we have surrounded ourselves like in a heavy blanket of death.
Externally, we look down upon these rules and regulations, but secretly we are paralysed with fear at the thought that they may crumble one day, and we may be left open before this dangerous Christ who knows our hearts so well. We fear He will take over and we shall lose control over our hearts. We fear we shall love Him, and that this Love will change us beyond recognition. The real danger, the thing that fills us with fear, is that our hearts may one day disobey these self-made rules and regulations, and they may open up and indeed follow Christ.
And yet, how much hope is hidden in this fear! What joy to understand that our deepest fear is to lose the world in us when we finally find Christ in us. Once this veil of darkness is finally broken, once the pain of the Cross cuts through the countless layers of worldliness with which we covered ourselves, we shall find nothing but Light, nothing but Love. There is immense comfort, inexhaustible hope in this knowledge, in this Good News: God is not our enemy, and death is not His will for us. At the end of it all, when the Cross makes us one with Christ, we shall find Life; and in that Life, we shall find ourselves.
Come follow me is a call to such perfection that no human can reach it on its own. But the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. In Christ, there is nothing to fear. What is there left to fear when God has loved us to His Death?
I want to open myself to Christ and get closer to God. I am 64 years old and I returned to the Orthodox Church in order to prepare myself for my earthly death and face judgement. I do not fear death. I fear God’s judgement on my soul. Have I followed God’s commandments and have I used the talents that the Lord gave me to profess and glorify Him?
Thank you so much for this. It rings with truth. When I was first chrismated, I craved the love of Christ, but scarcely a year later, I had moved to a different city, 350 miles away from where I was chrismated, away from a parish I loved so much whose people loved me dearly. After several years, I realized what had happened. The Love I had sought for so long had terrified me. It is overwhelming, and so we hang on desperately to the threads of who we used to be. At least, that’s what I did.
Christ is having to remake me slowly. Very. Slowly. Now, faced with a loving parish, I can say that I have remained, in order to know what that love feels like, in order to see Christ working in this community. The rewards have been incredible – I can truly hardly believe how nurtured I have been, and how I have changed as a result.
Thank you for writing this. You are so good at writing from the heart, and thus, beckoning to my own heart.
Your servant in Christ,
Thank You JESUS+
I have not read a more piercingly accurate description of the fear at the heart of our struggle to follow Christ. And the following quote is a very illustrative and convicting (and I’m the convict here) image of our inner struggle.
“It is painful to understand that the world rejecting Christ is the daily reality of our own ‘selves-in-the-world’ rejecting our ‘selves-in-Christ’.”
It’s painful to be on that Cross and to die to self. So if we only become truly human on the Cross, does that mean that pain is inherent to being human? It certainly is in our fallen state.
Fr. Seraphim, that first paragraph is pure gold, so spot-on. Thank you.
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